The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) was a hot topic in late 2011 and 2012. The bills led websites like Google and Wikipedia to “black out” in protest.
A screenshot of Wikipedia’s protest of SOPA and PIPA. Via Wikimedia Commons
But what exactly was the big deal about these bills?
According to Forbes writer Larry Magrid, SOPA and PIPA were intended to prevent certain websites, especially those outside of the United States, from distributing pirated material. This could include movies and music as well as physical goods. In theory, this would protect the intellectual property of artists and maintain creative integrity.
It sounds good on the surface, so what’s the problem? Why are there more businesses, websites, and organizations against SOPA and PIPA than there are supporting it?
The problem is censorship, or at the very least, the fear of it.
This bill would lead to shutting down entire sites, not just the parts distributing illegal materials. Magrid uses the example of a flea market; shutting down a website because of SOPA and PIPA would be the equivalent of shutting down an entire flea market because one vendor is selling stolen goods.
Giving the government the ability to shut down websites is a frightening concept. People are rightfully concerned that this could lead to government censorship. The bills may be intended to protect intellectual property, but like many laws, they could be manipulated. There is a fear that these laws could create an “internet blacklist.” Furthermore, these bills would cut off access to pirated material in countries where piracy may be the only avenue available, and this would severely limit the spread of information.
Many of the opponents of the bills agree with their intentions and suggest changes to the bills to prevent censorship. Protecting intellectual property, and by extension artists, is an excellent goal- but censorship is not the way to accomplish it.